Paris: Need to Know

City Basics

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Arriving. Paris's Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG), about 14 miles northeast of the city, is well served by the RER train network. From easily accessible stations beneath the terminals, take the RER B train to central Paris — about a 45-min. ride to stations like Châtelet-Les Halles (about €10), where you can transfer to the Paris Métro lines. Buses run by Air France (from €15) and Roissybus (from €8.60) are less convenient, servicing few stops and usually taking longer than the train, especially in traffic; they also cease running late at night. A taxi to the city center costs upward of $86.

Orly Airport is only about 12 miles from central Paris. It does not lie directly on a main train line, but buses connect fliers to the Pont de Rungis station on the RER line C (about 10 min. and €2.50). The Orlyval shuttle train also takes you to the RER line B station Antony (8 min. and €7.40). From either station, trains to Paris take about 25 min. and cost €3.60 (RER C) or €6.10 (RER B). Buses offer a simpler option, however: the Orlybus shuttle direct to Denfert-Rochereau station in Paris, takes 20 to 30 min. and costs €6.30, while Air France buses serve a number of other stops in the city (from €11.50). Taxis from Orly to Paris cost about €35, more in heavy traffic.

Getting Around. Look for the art nouveau signs above ground that mark Paris Métro entry points. The Métro is convenient and quick, but with some of the stations being quite close together, you might risk missing how delightfully walkable the city is.

Paris has recently replaced its old Carte Orange, which offered unlimited travel on the Paris transit system, with a suite of ticketing options. The new unlimited travel pass is called the ParisVisite. There are one- to five-day passes covering the entire Île-de-France transportation network, including the Métro, RATP buses and RER trains — even the Montmartre funicular. The one- and two-day passes (€9 for one day, €14 for two) offer value for only the most ambitious transit users. Locals get around with the London Oyster-style Navigo Decouverte pass, which costs €5 — but, again, it might not pay for itself on shorter stays. A single t+ ticket (€1.60 or $2.40) covers a single ride on any Métro, regular RATP bus or RER train within Paris; a book of 10 t+ tickets costs $17.

Although the passes and t+ tickets are valid on the RATP buses that run throughout the city, you'll scarcely have to use them, given how comprehensive the Métro system is. But buses can be fun on the more scenic routes.

Métro and bus service ceases at about midnight. To get back to your hotel in the wee hours, either take a Noctilien night bus or opt for a cab. Taxis can be hailed on the street (lighted signs mean cabs are available for hire), or you can call for one by phone or get in line at one of the city's hundreds of taxi stands. The minimum fare is €6, but all but the quickest trips will cost a good deal more. Have cash handy (credit cards are rarely accepted) and tip the driver 10%. Tariffs are higher after 7 p.m. and on Sunday.

Sightseeing. The Paris Museum Pass, which costs $46 for two days, gets you into more than 60 Paris attractions. It also lets you cut a few queues. If you visit at least a couple of sights each day, your pass will pay for itself.

Café Culture. Lingering over coffee or a glass of wine is a perfectly Parisian thing to do — waiters will respect you for it, rather than rush to turn over your table. Expect coffee to come espresso unless you order otherwise (and pay a premium). If you have to hurry, don't ask for coffee "to go" — it's not usually done — so just down your caffeine hit quickly at the bar.

Tipping. By law, your meal check includes VAT (value added tax) and a percentage charge for service. There's no obligation to tip beyond that, but you can show your satisfaction with a gratuity in the 5% to 10% range.

The Snobby French? Whoever started the rumors about Parisian hauteur got it grossly wrong. It's only a matter of approach. A crisp, correct salutation — "Bonjour" ("Good day") or "Bonsoir" ("Good evening") — followed by "Madame" or "Monsieur" almost always elicits attentive service or the assistance you seek.

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